Verance Reconfirmed as SDMI Standard

The Secure Digital Music Initiative has decided to reconfirm San Diego–based Verance Corporation's watermarking technology as its choice for inhibiting piracy in digitally recorded music. The May 21 announcement was made by the SDMI Plenary after a year-long campaign to evaluate the effectiveness and audibility of watermarks from 14 different vendors. The group has also apparently decided to halt further research and development efforts, which have been widely blamed for hobbling the rollout of DVD-Audio.

"While the SDMI has decided to forego Phase II of its program, Verance is gratified that the recorded music, consumer electronics, and information technology industries recognize the continued benefits that are provided to them through the use of our Phase I system," said Verance chairman David Leibowitz. "In addition, the extensibility of this system to offer additional functions assures that these industries will have the best enabling technology to meet their needs in today's and tomorrow's music marketplace."

The Verance watermarking system, which was determined to best meet the organization's criteria during Phase I testing, will continue to be the industry standard. Adopted first as part of the SDMI specification for portable music devices in December 1999, and later for DVD-Audio copy control, Verance's technology has been licensed to more than 40 media and consumer electronics companies worldwide.

The SDMI's decision to endorse Verance once-and-for-all may signify the end of its campaign, which appears to have slowed to a crawl in the wake of the late January resignation of director Leonard Chiariglione. On March 3, the organization issued a "request for proposals" for watermarking technologies for Internet audio players. The SDMI's last mention of Phase II plans was a March 5 report from a Tokyo meeting, which reaffirmed the group's intention to continue developing a "Phase II screening technology." There had been no news since regarding Phase II, until the announcement on May 21.

Driven by the music industry's fears of rampant piracy—which were fueled by the rise of free-music services like MP3.com and Napster in 1999 and 2000—watermarking has been roundly condemned by the audiophile community as an affront to the very concept of high-resolution recording. Many have called for a boycott of watermarked recordings, as did Stereophile editor John Atkinson in his September 2000 "As We See It". Perhaps indicative of how little importance audiophiles have for the music industry as a whole, the SDMI and its affiliates have plunged ahead with plans to mark as many new digital audio formats as possible.

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